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Saturday Girl About Burnley

Saturday Girl Burnley Takes Shape

Friday October 1, 2021

It is the first day of October and one of those days where I don’t know what coat to wear and whether I need an umbrella. There are gusts of wind, golden leaves on the still-green trees and warm sunshine.

My first stop is to wait in a queue for some diesel in Keighley in this mad time of chaotic Brexit fallout. It’s funny how quickly we get used to things being so different from a reasonably run society. I wear my mask to pay in the shop, just a part of my face these days as we get on with the pandemic.

In Burnley I head to Immanuel Fabrics to choose some backdrops for the upcoming shoots.

The brightest colours, shiny fabrics, neon and stretch velvet, everything for this Saturday Girl About Town is based on the tactile, physical experience of materiality, of being in physical spaces, with people, being connected and communicative through body, fabric, choice of clothing and colour. The backdrops reflect this - a riot of everything that scream ‘YES!” after these months of the separateness caused by this terrible pandemic.

Immanuel Fabrics is fantastic with friendly people bustling around being helpful -

I wonder about what the building where Immanuel Fabrics is located used to be. Everything in this town, like many towns across the North, is built into a Victorian infastructure and structure. The buildings that held Victorian society and ideals are crumbling throughout Burnley as I drive to visit my inlaws before the meeting. I can hardly drive for wanting to look out the window, seeing this town through the eyes of this project, wondering about the buildings and streets these past 150 years of changes in society.

Barbara and Jim grew up in Burnley and have seen the town through the last 80 years and more through their own lives and the stories in their family and community lineage. They remember the buildings that have been knocked down, bitterly recalling the beauty and sophistication of the art deco Odeon Cinema which was demolished in 1973. Barbara also spoke to me about her memories of Burnley Empire, a Grade 2 Victorian theatre. These buildings were vital spaces of fantasy, entertainment and escape for the working class people in these mill towns. Theatres like this were elaborately and richly ornate, otherworldly and magical. Barbara spoke of climbing staircase after staircase with her cousin to the seats at the very top ‘up in the Gods’. I love this phrase and wonder about the importance of these buildings in imbuing magic and power into lives. Promenading, stepping out and away from the everyday comes in many forms. This is what Saturday Girl About Town is exploring.

Here's an article about Burnley Empire by Gilly Fontaine-Grist. The photo below is by Mark Salmon, 2016.

There is a relationship between the self, the bodily experience of being visible, being out and about, of clothing and presenting oneself, how it can transform, connect and communicate and the spaces of magical experience. Like a church (which works in a similar way but doesn’t often value the individual and magical beyond patriarchal morality) Theatres and promenades, public spaces of gathering away from work, school and family can imbue magic into lives through the rituals of gathering. There is something sacred and essential here that is about individuals using their visibility; fashion and bodily communication, to connect and find their tribes and community and the spaces, the streets, cafes, clubs, theatres, promenades where this happens.

So this is what I’m thinking as James, Sarah and I meet with Nick Hunt of Midpennine Arts, artist Fiona Hornby and educator and artist Sophie Gibson. Lower St James’s Street is the Heritage Action Zone of Burnley and it is here where Saturday Girl About Town will be. The first photoshoot will be Saturday October 9th.


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